William A. Wheeler was an American statesman who became the 19th Vice President of the United States, serving from 1877 to 1881, in the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes. Born in New York, after finishing his elementary education, Wheeler attended the University of Vermont but was subsequently forced to drop out without completing his graduation due to financial crisis. Later, he studied law and was admitted to the bar, and started his legal practice in his hometown of Malone. Gradually, he gravitated to politics and became a Whig member of the New York State Assembly. In 1856, he switched to the newly formed Republican Party and thereafter remained active in state and national politicsfor many years. After serving as a member and president pro tempore of the state Senate, Wheeler became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a post he served between 1861 and 1863, and again from 1869 to 1877. Afterwards, Wheeler was nominated for vice presidency on the Republican ticket with President Rutherford B. Hayes and was subsequently installed in office through the decision of the Electoral Commission. As Vice President of the United States, Wheeler was a keen promoter of the administrative integrity, civil service reform, and aid to education in the South. After finishing his four-year term at the office, Wheeler retired to private life and later died at his hometown while in his 60s
Childhood & Early Life
William Almon Wheeler was born on June 30, 1819, in Malone, New York, U.S.A, to Almon Wheeler, an attorney and local postmaster, and his wife, Eliza Woodworth.
After Almon’s death at the age of 37, when William was just eight years old, Eliza took in students from the nearby Franklin Academy as tenants to support the family.
Along with receiving early education from the Franklin academy, Wheeler worked as a farmer and saved money for college. At the age of 19, he got enrolled at the University of Vermont in Burlington, where he studied for the next two years but eventually dropped out without graduating due to financial constraints.
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After giving up his graduation degree, Wheeler returned to Malone and started teaching at a school. Subsequently, he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1845, and started his legal practice in Malone.
In 1846, Wheeler was appointed the District Attorney of Franklin County, a position he retained until 1849. Subsequently, he joined the Whig Party and served as a member of the New York State Assembly from Franklin County between 1850 and 1851, chairing the ways and means committee.
Later, Wheeler switched to the newly organized Republican Party and became a member of the New York State Senate from the 17th District in 1858. Subsequently, he was elected its president pro tempore where he served for a year.
In March 1861, Wheeler became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 16th district and was elected as a Republican to the 37th United States Congress, where he remained until March 1863.
From June 1867 to February 1868, he served as the President of the New York State Constitutional Convention.In 1868, Wheeler again won the election and became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 17th district, where he chaired the Committee on Pacific Railroads.
After serving in the 41st and 42nd United States Congress from 1869 to 1873, Wheeler was subsequently re-elected as a member of the House of Representatives in the 43rd and 44th United States Congresses. He remained in the office continuously for eight years, serving from March 4, 1869, to March 4, 1877.
In 1876, Wheeler was nominated by the Republican Party as the running mate of President Rutherford B. Hayes. Subsequently, Wheeler was elected the 19thVice President of United States through the decision of an Electoral Commission which was appointed to rule on contested electoral ballots in the 1876 election.
He was nominated for vice presidency in order to provide sectional balance to the ticket and was inaugurated at the office on March 4, 1877. In his acceptance letter, Wheeler mentioned the need for ending Reconstruction, which President Hayes subsequently ensured.
As Vice President, Wheeler presided over the Senate and served until the end of his term on March 4, 1881.Upon finishing his tenure, Wheeler retired from public life.
In 1875, upon being re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and becoming a member of the 44th U.S. Congress, Wheeler was appointed to a committee investigating a disputed election in Louisiana. Subsequently,he authored the well-known ‘Wheeler Compromise’ through which hthe problems between opposing political parties in the state were resolved.With this compromise,administrative control of the state was shared between the Democratic and Republican parties.
Personal Life & Legacy
In September 1845, Wheeler married one of his former students, Mary King. The couple remained together until Mary’s deathin 1876.
After completing his term as Vice President of United States, Wheeler took retirement from public life due to his deteriorating health. He died on June 4, 1887, at his home in Malone, New York, U.S., at the age of 67, and was interred next to his wife in the Morningside Cemetery, Malone.